Shenton Way

Shenton Way begins at the junction of Boon Tat Street, Raffles Quay and Commerce Street, and ends where it meets Keppel Road.1 It is part of “Golden Shoe”, the moniker given to an 80-acre plot of prime land in the heart of Singapore’s city centre. The shape of the area resembles an upturned shoe and contains Singapore’s most expensive real estate. Designated as the financial and banking hub, Golden Shoe was gazetted in 1970 under the Controlled Premises (Special Provisions) Act of 1969 as a zone deregulated from rent controls, which means owners could repossess their properties for development purposes.2

Shenton Way was named after Shenton Whitelegge Thomas, the governor of the Straits Settlements from 1934 to 1946. Built on reclaimed land that was part of the Telok Ayer reclamation project completed in 1932, the road was not officially opened until 1951. The Shenton Circus, a traffic-island roundabout that used to be at the Maxwell Road junction, was a key landmark. The road was initially planned to be called Raffles Way, but the decision was rescinded as there were already many roads, institutions, and places named after Stamford Raffles. Shenton Way was named in appreciation of Thomas’s decision to remain in the colony during the invasion of Singapore by the Japanese in 1942. The road was officially opened by then governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson on 3 August 1951 at 10.30 am.3

The original 27-metre-wide road was built by Chief Municipal Engineer D. Wexton. By the early 1950s, however, traffic in Raffles Place had become congested; to relieve the situation, efforts were made to open up Shenton Way for redevelopment. Land lots between Shenton Way and Robinson Road were auctioned in the early 1952 for the construction of nine-storey offices and flats facing the sea.4 Unfortunately, the project, which the local press dubbed the “Shenton Way skyscraper scheme”, had failed by 1954. Government bailiffs re-entered and claimed possession of 11 lots of land in Shenton Way and Robinson Road. The land buyers had not fulfilled their agreement with the government to start building within two years of the date of sale, citing the “trade recession and other reasons” that made it impractical for them to start construction.5

Key landmarks
The very first structure built on the reclaimed land was the first Singapore Polytechnic campus, which was completed at the end of 1958 on Prince Edward Road, off Shenton Way. Designed by colonial architecture firm Swan & Maclaren, the polytechnic remained there until it relocated to its current Dover Road campus in 1979. Much of the site is still standing today as Bestway Building.6

It was not until the 1960s that the first buildings appeared along Shenton Way.7 Amongst the first modern buildings located there was the Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House, which was opened officially in 1965. The building is recognised as a prime example of Singapore’s urban architecture of the 1960s and one of the earliest buildings to demonstrate distinctive Malayan features. It was designed to suit the local tropical climate, especially through the use of a cantilevered roof and terraces to provide shade and a natural ventilation system to keep the interior cool. After the National Trades Union Congress moved out of the premises, extensive modifications to the building were completed in 2001. The building was reopened as the Singapore Conference Hall on 22 September that year by then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.8

The 1968 land sales programme by the Urban Renewal Department (URD; predecessor of the Urban Redevelopment Authority) had resulted in the so-called “three sisters” of Shenton Way: UIC (United Industrial Corporation) Building, Robina House and Shenton House. Completed in 1975, all shared a similar tower-and-podium structure, thanks to a URD planning regulation that ensured buildings sited further inland could still enjoy a sea view. There was, however, flexibility to allow some variation in design, most notably in the facade of the tower blocks. The tower-and-podium design was also used for the 22-storey Shing Kwan House across the road, also the result of the 1968 land sales programme. It was connected to the “three sisters” by a pedestrian-cum-shopping overhead bridge called the Golden Bridge.9

The Singapore government also located its financial institutions in the Shenton Way area.10 Among the first were the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) Building designed by Architects Team 3, and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Building (off Shenton Way at Robinson Road) by the Public Works Department.11 The two buildings were completed in 1975 and 1977 respectively, and shared the same tower-and-podium structure as their neighbours.12 The DBS tower was a 50-storey building with three sections, and when it was first announced in 1971, the project was hailed as a symbol of Singapore’s rise from “a small fishing village” to a modern nation.13 Since 1987, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also moved into its own 30-storey MAS Building; and the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade and Industry moved into the 52-storey (former) Treasury Building, both at Shenton Way.14 The presence of these financial agencies show that Shenton Way was developed with the aim of making it a key financial area in Singapore.15

When the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Trade and Industry relocated to their new home, The Treasury, on High Street in 1997, the former Treasury Building was renamed Temasek Tower. In 2011, the building was renamed yet again to the current AXA Tower.16

The DBS Building was acquired by Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE) in 2010, and it has since been redeveloped into a new mixed-use project called OUE Downtown, comprising offices, serviced apartments and retail spaces.17

Urban rejuvenation in Shenton Way has continued apace in the new millennium, with makeovers for several older buildings. Robina House, UIC Building and Shing Kwan Building/ICB Building (Industrial and Commercial Bank Building) were demolished and replaced respectively with the One Shenton condominium (2011), a residential-cum-commercial development called V on Shenton (2017), and SGX (Singapore Exchange) Centre (2000–01).18

In June 2017, a new bus interchange was built in Shenton Way to serve commuters in the Central Business District. The terminal is located off Shenton Way, next to Bestway Building and directly opposite the MAS Building. It replaced the previous bus terminal along Palmer Road.19

The 42-year-old Golden Bridge was demolished in 2015 to make way for the Thomson-East Coast MRT line. In 1973, the authorities had described the link across Shenton Way as a “bold pedestrian-cum-shopping bridge”.20


Chris Tang

1., Shenton Way, map, n.d.
2. The 1969 (Commencement) Notification 1970, Sp. S. 61/1970), Government GazetteSubsidiary Legislation Supplement, 1970, 117 (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS); Leslie Fong Teo, Peter Teo and Chia Potek, “Golden Shoe,” Straits Times, 28 February 1970, 1; The “‘Decontrol’ Area is a ‘Golden Shoe’,” Straits Times, 28 February 1970, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Chua Beng Huat, The Golden Shoe: Building Singapore’s Financial District (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1989), 25–29. (Call no. RSING 711.5522095957 CHU)
3. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 344 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); “Shenton Way,” Straits Times, 20 July 1951, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 345.
5. “Shenton Way Skyscraper Scheme Flops,” Straits Times, 6 June 1954, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Chua, Golden Shoe, 51–54; Melody Zaccheus, Old Singapore Poly Home May Be Conserved,” Straits Times, 29 August 2015, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 344.
8. “An Important Centre for Civic and Cultural Activities,” Straits Times, 15 October 1965, 15; Leong Weng Kam, “Singapore Chinese Orchestra Gets Own Home,” Straits Times, 22 September 2001, H5 (From NewspaperSG); “Former Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House,” National Heritage Board, accessed 1 October 2017; Singapore National Trades Union Congress and Ministry of Culture, Souvenir Brochure for the Opening of the Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House on 15th October 1965 (Singapore: Ministry of Culture, 1965) (Call no. RCLOS 725.9 SIN); G. Uma Devi, et al., Singapore's 100 Historic Places (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2002), 90. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
9. Singapore Institute of Architects, Contemporary Singapore Architecture (Singapore: Singapore Institute of Architects, 1998), 45 (Call no. RSING 720.95957 CON); Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985), 167 (Call no. RSING 722.4095957 BEA); Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Changing the Face of Singapore: Through the URA Sale of Sites (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1995), 153–55. (Call no. RSING 333.77095957 CHA)
10. Soh Tiang Keng, “Shenton Way Grows into the ‘Wall Street of Singapore’,” Straits Times, 8 October 1973, 11; “‘Overseer’ Takes Up Vantage Point,” Business Times, 31 May 1984, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Singapore Institute of Architects, Contemporary Singapore Architecture, 63, 72.
12. Chua, Golden Shoe, 74; Singapore Institute of Architects, Contemporary Singapore Architecture, 63, 72.
13. Leslie Fong, “Signing of $36 M Contract Marks a New Era,” Straits Times, 29 May 1971, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Chua, Golden Shoe, 76.
15. Chua, Golden Shoe, 76.
16. “Treasury Building Gets a New Name,” Business Times, 15 March 1997, 2; “8 Shenton Way to Be Named AXA Tower,” Business Times, 7 April 2011, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Nisha Ramchandani, “New Concepts at Downtown Gallery Beckon,” Business Times, 12 March 2016, 15; “OUE Strikes Towering Deal on Shenton Way,” Business Times, 14 August 2010, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Kalpana Rashiwala, “SGX to Begin Moving to Unity Towers Later This Year: Sources,” Business Times, 3 August 2001, 2 (From NewspaperSG); City Developments Ltd., Annual Report 2011 (Singapore: City Developments Ltd, 2012), 3; Cecilia Chow, “Inside 8M Real Estate’s $400 Mil Portfolio," Edge Singapore, 11 September 2017. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
19. Priscilla Goy, “New Shenton Way Bus Terminal to Open on June 25,”  Straits Times, 2 June 2017, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Melissa Lin, “Shenton Way’s Golden Bridge Is Coming Down,” Straits Times, 17 February 2015, 2. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Street names--Singapore
Streets and Places